Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Worldwide Awakening of the Descendents of the Secret Jews (Anusim)

On Weds June 22, the Conference on "The Worldwide Awakening of the Descendents of the Secret Jews (Anusim)" was held at Netanya Academic College. It was planned to coincide with the inauguration of the new "Institute for the Study of the Secret Jews (Anusim)" and the establishment of the library in the name of Leslie (z"l) and Gloria Mound, founders of Casa Shalom and pioneers in the study of this area.

First, a word about nomenclature. Many people refer to the subjects of this work as "Marranos", but as Prof. Corinaldi, Head of the new Institute discussed, this word, and the common word used in the Balearic Islands of "Chueta", is a derogatory term meaning "pig" or "swine" and is inappropriate in this use. Just as we do not refer to the Ethiopian Jews any more as "Falasha," a similar pejorative term, or to Black Americans as "Negroes", so we should stop using this terminology. The Hebrew term "Anusim" meaning "forced" is in some respects more appropriate, but in English the term chosen is "secret Jews" and note that their descendents may or may not be secret Jews. The name "hidden Jews" was not used so as not to confuse the issue with that of the Holocaust when many Jews were "hidden", and the synonymous term "crypto-Jews" was not used as being too technical.

The participants were welcomed by Prof. Zvi Arad, President of Netanya College. In the first section of the Conference, greetings were given by five eminent speakers, Yitzhak Navon, the fifth President of Israel, now 90 years old, but still active, and the Honorary President of Casa Shalom and of the new Institute. Then came Rabbi Meir Israel Lau, the Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv and Holocaust survivor, followed by Justice Meir Shamgar, former Chief Justice of the Israel Supreme Court, HE Don Alvaro Iranzo, Spanish Ambassador to Israel, and finally Mr. Elie Schalit, a founder of Casa Shalom and among other things a founder of the Israel Air Force. Some of the speakers gave anecdotes about their own experiences in meeting people who were descendents of secret Jews, including the Presidents and other eminent officials of several former Spanish and Portuguese colonies!

Here I would like to interject a word of clarification into this complex area, the Jews of Spain were expelled in 1492, not coincidentally the same year that Columbus (probably of Jewish origin) discovered America. Approximately 350,000 Jews were expelled, while the same number remained. Those that remained were forced to accept Christianity on pain of death. The Inquisition was founded in 1478, as a result of a request of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella to the Pope. Its stated intention was to ensure religious conformity by the so-called "new Christians" or "conversos" and to root out "Judaizing", an activity widely defined and punishable by death. Although ostensibly a religious insititution, from the start the Inquisition was a cooperation between the Church and the State power. Approximately half of all riches confiscated from those found guilty were shared by the State and the Church. .

Approximately half of the Jews expelled from Spain fled to Portugal, a country that had only recently obtained its independence from Spain. The King of Portugal allowed the Jews to stay temporarily, but his successor then decided that these Jews would make good Christian citizens and forced them to convert. There was a massacre of several thousand Jews in Lisbon in 1505, and the remaining Jews were expelled from Portugal in 1536. Theoretically after this date there were no more Jews in Spain and Portugal, but it is important to note that the Inquisition was not focussed on Jews but on those who had been Jews but were now supposedly Christians.

In the Conference there were a total of ten speakers on varied topics, as well as an excerpt of a movie on the secret Jews of Portugal made by Leon Edri, owner of Cinema City in Israel. In his introductory remarks he stated that most of the elite of Portugal today are descendents of secret Jews, some now openly admit it, but only in the far mountainous north of Portugal are there groups of people who have retained enough identity to still be called Jews. The only major town that was not accessed by the Inquisition was Belmonte, and here there was a secret "cell" of Jews that remained active until our time. They were discovered in the 1930s by a German Jew named Schwartz and established contact with the Jewish community of Lisbon in the 1970s. Today there are hundreds who have openly become Jews again and have a Synagogue in Belmonte, while many others prefer to remain as secret Jews. The film, not yet released, documents this situation. In another posting I will describe some of the lectures at the Conference.


Blogger Judith Cohen said...

Thank you for your report on the conference. About Belmonte: Samuel Schwartz did not arrive there in the 1930s but in 1917. He was not German, but Polish. The Jews of Belmonte had contact with Lisbon at the beginning of the 20th century, not just in the 1970s. There is a lot of information available on the subject.

2:48 PM  

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